Colorado Fracking Rules to Target Methane

A derrick drills for oil in Weld County, Colorado. Ninety percent of wells in Colorado are fracked. 
National Journal
Amy Harder
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Amy Harder
Nov. 15, 2013, 9:04 a.m.

Demo­crat­ic Gov. John Hick­en­loop­er of Col­or­ado plans to an­nounce a frame­work tar­get­ing meth­ane — a po­tent green­house gas — as part of his state’s reg­u­la­tions con­trolling frack­ing.

“We are very close now — with­in the week — to ham­mer­ing out a spe­cif­ic meth­ane reg­u­lat­ory frame­work that I think will make sure people’s air is much clean­er than what some of their fears would lead them to be­lieve,” Hick­en­loop­er said in an in­ter­view with Na­tion­al Journ­al Tues­day. His of­fice con­firmed an an­nounce­ment is ex­pec­ted next week. 

In both polit­ics and en­ergy pro­duc­tion, Col­or­ado is a bell­weth­er state. So how Hick­en­loop­er moves for­ward on these is­sues will be a key in­dic­at­or of how oth­er states and the coun­try as a whole move for­ward.

Col­or­ado, which has tra­di­tion­ally ranked in the top 10 of the coun­try’s oil and nat­ur­al-gas pro­du­cing states, has more than doubled its oil pro­duc­tion and in­creased its gas pro­duc­tion by 30 per­cent since 2005. In that same peri­od, an­oth­er trend began: Col­or­ado’s polit­ics shif­ted from red, where they were in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, to blue. After George W. Bush won the state with 52 per­cent of the vote in 2004, Barack Obama car­ried the state com­fort­ably in both 2008 and 2012.

It’s already known that Hick­en­loop­er’s ad­min­is­tra­tion is in the pro­cess of writ­ing air-qual­ity rules that are ex­pec­ted to be re­leased early next week. This in­clu­sion of meth­ane, a green­house gas whose heat-trap­ping power is 20 times more po­tent than car­bon di­ox­ide in the short-term — is a new de­vel­op­ment. Con­cerns about meth­ane have grown as the coun­try shifts from coal to nat­ur­al gas, which burns half as many car­bon emis­sions as coal. The meth­ane could can­cel out the oth­er cli­mate be­ne­fits, some en­vir­on­ment­al­ists and ex­perts worry.

“No one has really broken down meth­ane,” Hick­en­loop­er said of states’ frack­ing rules.

The news is com­ing on the heels of four cit­ies in Col­or­ado — Fort Collins, Boulder, La­fay­ette, and Broom­field — vot­ing on anti-frack­ing meas­ures. The first three passed the ini­ti­at­ives by com­fort­able mar­gins. The meas­ure in Broom­field, the most con­ser­vat­ive com­munity, ini­tially failed, but its res­ult was over­turned in a re­count Thursday. An­oth­er re­count is now ex­pec­ted.

Mean­while, the House is ex­pec­ted to vote on le­gis­la­tion next week that bans the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion from reg­u­lat­ing frack­ing, an ex­trac­tion tech­nique that in­volves blast­ing large amounts of sand and wa­ter along with chem­ic­als in­to shale form­a­tions to re­lease oil and gas. It’s key to de­vel­op­ing un­con­ven­tion­al fossil re­sources but con­tro­ver­sial for its im­pact on the en­vir­on­ment.

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